External thesis examiners ranked Métis alumnus Jodie Warren's perfect PhD as "exceptional," with "excellent potential for impact."

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Passion and courage trounce adversity

June 11, 2018
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By Diane Luckow

Fifteen years ago, master’s student Jodie Warren received SFU’s Terry Fox Gold Medal acknowledging her courage in the face of adversity after surviving a severe stroke in 1997 at age 23, during her undergraduate studies.

Left with extensive damage, including the loss of her right arm, Warren persevered through an extended recovery period to complete her BSc in biology in 1999 and an MA in criminology in 2007.

This month, the Métis alumnus will receive her PhD in criminology after completing an exceptional thesis that required no changes—a circumstance that her graduate supervisor, professor Gail Anderson says “is rare and very cool.”

“Jodie is amazing,” says Anderson. “After her stroke she couldn’t walk and struggled to speak. She came back from all that and now not only lives a normal life but has also gained a top degree.”

Warren’s interest in biology led her to volunteer in Anderson’s forensics entomology lab, where she could indulge her fascination with insects. The lab conducts research on how insects colonize dead bodies—information that is then applied in police investigations.

She next completed a BCIT certificate program in forensic science and, after receiving encouragement from Anderson, pursued a master’s degree in criminology under Anderson’s supervision.

Warren’s master’s project focused on a specific species of blow fly, examining its development at constant and fluctuating temperatures—crucial knowledge for forensic entomologists who apply constant temperature data to fluctuating temperature regimes in human death investigations. 

Her PhD thesis examined whether using a spectrometer to measure light reflecting off of insects could be used to better judge their age.

“As insects develop, their surface constantly changes,” she says. “With this research I could age the insect to the day within the development stage, which is so much more precise. Some stages can last for weeks, so we can use this information to make or break an alibi, to point investigators to the correct time frame for a homicide, or to just let family members know when their loved one died.”

She published her findings in several prestigious, peer-reviewed academic journals. And her examining committee unanimously agreed her work has excellent potential for making a major impact in the forensics entomology field.

Still, it wasn’t easy. Warren took the full eight years to earn this final degree, taking time out for surgeries she hoped would improve the mobility of her hand and leg.

“Never, when I had the stroke, would I have thought that I would come this far,” she says now.

Warren says she would probably have become a school teacher if she hadn’t been sidelined by the stroke. Instead, she discovered a passion for forensics and hopes to now pursue a career as a professor.

She says working at SFU among some of North America’s best experts in forensics has given her excellent career options.

“I found my passion here,” she says. “After so many years, it feels like home.”